Archive for Saturday, March 24, 2012

$325M Westar project to help environment

Power plant upgrades will cut pollutants

Lawrence Energy Center plant manager Troy Mussetter, left, and Paul Wallen, executive director, major construction projects, at Westar Energy, tour the construction site of a new $325 million environmental retrofit. The current project will reduce emission of fine particles from two of the three coal-burning units. Pictured in the background is unit five, where Westar is installing a fabric filtration system and rebuilding the sulfur dioxide scrubber system.

Lawrence Energy Center plant manager Troy Mussetter, left, and Paul Wallen, executive director, major construction projects, at Westar Energy, tour the construction site of a new $325 million environmental retrofit. The current project will reduce emission of fine particles from two of the three coal-burning units. Pictured in the background is unit five, where Westar is installing a fabric filtration system and rebuilding the sulfur dioxide scrubber system.

March 24, 2012


Westar Energy is in the middle of a $325 million construction project that will slash the thousands of tons of pollutants spewing from the Lawrence Energy Center every year.

The project, started in 2009, is designed to reduce the fine particle, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions coming from two of three power plants’ coal-burning units. These pollutants have been linked to respiratory illnesses, haze, smog and acid rain.

This spring, Westar entered into the heart of the work at Unit 5, which typical generates 64 percent of the plant’s 585 megawatts of electricity. It will be shut down for 60 days. Crews are working to complete the construction before Westar heads into the demanding summer season. More than 350 workers are on site daily.

More than four decades ago, the Lawrence Energy Center led the country in state-of-the-art environment technology. In 1968, Unit 4 was the first generating unit in the country to be retrofitted with wet scrubbers, which remove sulfur dioxide. Three years later, Unit 5 was the first newly built coal-burning unit that installed a wet scrubber. In the late 1970s, the scrubbers on both units were replaced with the next generation of equipment, which are the ones that are being upgraded today.

Throughout the process, Westar is working with Black & Veatch, the same company that designed the wet scrubbers installed on the units more than 40 years ago.

Environmental regulations

The latest rounds of upgrades are in response to the Regional Haze Agreement Westar reached with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment in 2007 and 2008. The agreement, which utilities and states across the country reached, was aimed at protecting air quality in national parks and wilderness areas.

And the Lawrence Energy Center isn’t the only power plant in the area that needs to reduce its emissions based on that agreement. Large-scale projects are also under way at the Jeffrey Energy Center and the La Cygne power plant.

“You are not going to turn the lights on one day, and all of sudden the air is a lot cleaner,” said Tom Gross, who is the chief of air monitoring and planing for the KDHE’s Bureau of Air. “But all across the country, improvements are being made on a gradual basis.”

Along with meeting the Regional Haze Agreement, Gross said, the upgrades could help the Kansas City region’s ozone levels. For the past three years, the region has narrowly met the EPA’s ozone standards.

“On days when winds are blowing out of the right direction, (regional power plants) are impacting Kansas City and Wichita,” Gross said. “If we reduce emissions, we will see improvements in air quality on those days in these cities.”

The upgrades will also help Westar reach compliance with the federal Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, which calls for power plants to significantly reduce their sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions.

Last fall, Westar and the state of Kansas sued in federal court saying the rule would require hundreds of millions of dollars in upgrades to comply by the law’s Jan. 1 deadline. In December, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit stayed the implementation of the rule. The court plans to hear oral arguments on the case in April.

“We are still reviewing the ramifications,” said Paul Wallen, who is Westar’s executive director of construction projects. Wallen noted that the $325 million worth of upgrades should mean that no significant additional work would be needed to comply with the new law.

“We are constantly watching environmental landscape to ensure we are in compliance,” Wallen said.

Major upgrades

Since Unit 5 produces more than half of the energy for the Lawrence plant, which supplies electricity to 15 percent of Westar’s 687,000 customers, some of the upgrades have to be done when demand for electricity is at its lowest.

“We are able to meet the demand with other power plants and take advantage of temperate weather in the spring and fall,” Wallen said of how Westar manages when Unit 5 is shut down.

Next fall, Westar plans to take Unit 4 offline for 60 days so it can perform many of the same environmental upgrades. The company hopes to finish the project in 2013.

Already completed at Unit 5 is a new building, nearly nine stories high, that holds a fabric filtration system. The system is made up of thousands of bags that are 10 inches around and 30 feet long. It’s a similar concept as vacuum cleaner bags, only about a million times bigger.

The flue gas from the coal-fire plant’s combustion process runs through the fabric filtration system. The suspended fabric bags then collect particulate matter from the flue gas.

Nearby is a large concrete silo that holds about seven days’ worth of the particulate matter, which is collected, hauled away and repurposed into products used in concrete and road materials.

The building to house a fabric filtration system at Unit 4 is expected to be built this summer.

In 2011, particulate matter emissions were reported at 1,009 tons at Unit 5 and 241 tons at Unit 4. With the upgrades, that is expected to drop to 135 tons at Unit 5 and 37 tons at Unit 4.

The environmental upgrades also include rebuilding the two units’ scrubber systems, which use a water and limestone mixture to remove sulfur dioxide from flue gas. Sulfur dioxide emissions are expected to drop from 1,437 tons a year at Unit 5 and 168 tons a year at Unit 4 to 435 tons and 123 tons.

Wallen said residents won’t see much of a difference with the new scrubbers and noted that steam will still flow out of the plant’s stacks.

“From an appearance point of view, it will look the same,” he said.

The upgrades will also reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by upgrading the burning systems in all three of the energy center’s generating units. The new burning system will mix fuel and air more efficiently, which will reduce the amount of nitrogen oxide.

Westar consumers have already been paying for the $325 million worth of upgrades, and others like them throughout Westar’s territory, through an environmental rider that was tacked onto electric bills in 2005.


Les Blevins 6 years, 3 months ago

Reducing toxic emissions is good but what is Westar doing about reducing their carbon emissions? Carbon dioxide buildup in the atmosphere is reaching critical levels and it's already impacting our weather patterns and reducing the amount of food our nation is able to produce. Looking at the long term climate science tells us CO2 will also cause warming of the Polar regions and loss of the ice and a sea level rise of one to 25 meters worldwide. I again extend an offer to show Westar how it can reduce carbon emissions and provide a higher level of service to its many client communities and how it can show other utilities how to put more renewable energy on the power grid. Are you willing to discuss this issue Westar?

Cant_have_it_both_ways 6 years, 3 months ago

You know this first hand, or are you spewing stuff you have heard?

Richard Heckler 6 years, 3 months ago

Nonsense. Always trying to dupe the public. These coal sources are expensive and toxic energy sources.

Union of Concerned Scientists:

Global Warming The Earth is warming and human activity is the primary cause. Climate disruptions put our food and water supply at risk, endanger our health, jeopardize our national security, and threaten other basic human needs. Some impacts—such as record high temperatures, melting glaciers, and severe flooding and droughts—are already becoming increasingly common across the country and around the world. So far, our national leaders are failing to act quickly to reduce heat-trapping emissions.

However, there is much we can do to protect the health and economic well-being of current and future generations from the consequences of the heat-trapping emissions caused when we burn coal, oil, and gas to generate electricity, drive our cars, and fuel our businesses.

Our country is at a crossroads: the United States can act responsibly and seize the opportunity to lead by developing new, innovative solutions, as well as immediately putting to use the many practical solutions we have at our disposal today; or we can choose to do nothing and deal with severe consequences later. At UCS we believe the choice is clear. It is time to push forward toward a brighter, cleaner future.

What is Global Warming? When CO2 and other heat-trapping emissions are released into the air, they act like a blanket, holding heat in our atmosphere and warming the planet. Overloading our atmosphere with carbon has far-reaching effects for people everywhere.

Global Warming Science & Impacts

What does the science say about global warming and what are the connections between climate data and the changes we see around us—and those we expect to see in the future? Learn more

Richard Heckler 6 years, 3 months ago

Global Warming Contrarians

The overwhelming consensus among climate scientists is that global warming is real, primarily caused by human activity, and a serious threat to our future. Yet media extremists, partisan think tanks, and special interest groups funded by fossil fuel and related industries continue to raise doubts in the minds of the public.

Global warming deniers downplay and distort the evidence of climate change, and they demand policies that allow these industries to continue polluting, as well as attempt to undercut existing anti-pollution legislation.

UCS continues to fight against misrepresentations of global warming in the popular media, providing sound, science-based evidence to set the record straight. UCS serves as a bastion of rationality among the distortions and hysteria whipped up by fossil fuel industry-funded deniers. In the articles listed below, learn the truth about these attacks on science.


attorney1776 6 years, 3 months ago

You somehow forgot to mention that the Union of Concerned Scientists is a "left leaning", liberal, out-of-the-mainstream politicized organization that just happens to include similar thinking scientists. That is it's own stated mission, not anyone's interpretation.

This organization is NOT an unbiased, non-partisan, diverse group of the country's highest level scientists.

If you really want to present your point, include all facts. Not just the facts that conveniently hide the total picture.

I have no ball in this game, but what I find disgusting is people who present half-truths, shaded facts or falsehoods to propagandize and deceive readers and the public at large.

If your facts can't persuade, then maybe your position is faulty. Having to lie or deceive about it, is the giveaway.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 3 months ago

Are you saying that they have the science wrong? Or just that you don't like the results of the science they are reporting, and lacking any way to attack them on the science, you attack them on their politics (as you ascribe them?)

My money says when it comes to science, you got nothin'.

JayhawkFan1985 6 years, 3 months ago

You can't argue facts with an imbecile or with a clown. I'm not sure which this guy is, but he's one or the other...

Joe Hyde 6 years, 3 months ago

Well, I suppose Westar could halt work on this project and order the workmen to tear down all that new equipment designed for cleaning the plant's exhaust gasses. Hope they don't do that, though.

For what it's worth, I've paddled the Kaw River past this power plant over 400 times and as far as I'm concerned Westar does real good about not ruining the river recreation experience. There's no low-head dam threatening the lives of boaters, just three deflector jetties that are easily avoided while you're navigating past the plant.

They have evaporation towers that reduce the temperature of the plant's cooling water before it's released back into the river. Not too much noise or light pollution. So from what I've been able to tell from my numerous "cheek-to-cheek" encounters when canoeing past it, this power plant is a pretty good neighbor.

madeinusa 6 years, 3 months ago

Give Them credit, They have led the industry in cleaning up the air for 40 years! I am proud to have them here in Lawrence!!!

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 3 months ago

"They have led the industry"

Huh? If they're in the lead, they've been kicking and screaming about being there.

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